A Sunday morning phone call to his old high school quarterback gave Kody Epps a chance to compare battle scars from the day before.
Alabama’s Bryce Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner and teammate of Epps at Mater Dei High in Los Angeles, was recovering from a gut-wrenching 51-48 defeat at Tennessee on CBS, while Epps was on the mend after BYU’s loss to Arkansas on ESPN.
“I lost faith multiple times. I thought this might be it. It was so difficult. But through adversity is when you find out how strong you are and you find out if you are cut for it.” — BYU receiver Kody Epps
“I told him, I can’t believe you get hit by these dudes week in and week out,” Epps said after his first bout with SEC athletes. “He just laughed.”
Epps caught nine passes for a career-high 125 yards and a touchdown, but he paid a price for it. As he sat down for an interview for BYUtv’s “GameDay” broadcast earlier this week, his right shoulder was wrapped, his finger was taped, his hip was black and blue and he was missing the small bone in the ball of his left foot.
Despite it all, Epps retains a smile as wide as a football field and the humility of an old soul thrice his age. His time off the field last year changed his perspective and his approach to the game.
“I’m to the point where I don’t want to miss any football if I don’t have to,” he said. “I’m just gonna keep riding it. I’m gonna keep pushing. None of these nagging things are going to keep me out.”
The wrong foot
Epps’ BYU career started off on the wrong foot — his left foot. After struggling with persistent soreness following the 2019 COVID-19 season, doctors removed the small bone in the ball of his foot and he had to train himself to get along without it, including coming to terms with the possibility that his playing days might be over.
“I lost faith multiple times. I thought this might be it. It was so difficult,” Epps said. “But through adversity is when you find out how strong you are and you find out if you are cut for it. I was cut for that adversity and it’s coming to fruition now for what I went through and the motivation that is continuously pushing through me.”
Epps spent last season on the sideline cheering for his teammates, resting his foot and dreaming of his eventual return — even if it meant being sixth on the depth chart.
“That year sitting out has prepared me for these moments that I’ve dreamt about,” he said. “I’ve dreamed about making plays. I’ve dreamed about catching the ball on this field. I’ve dreamed about scoring touchdowns in front of our fans. Now I’m here, so having had to sit out keeps me motivated.”
At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Epps is built like an Indy Car, where speed is the name of the game. No matter where he catches the ball, his drive is to race to the end zone.
“I worked in the offseason on twitchy things,” he said. “As soon as I catch the ball, as soon as I put my first foot in the ground, it’s time to go. It’s time to get to the end zone.”
Epps has logged back-to-back games with at least 100 receiving yards — a BYU freshman record. He caught four passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame and nine passes for 125 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas. He has also caught at least one touchdown in five consecutive games and needs four more over the next six games to break Ross Apo’s freshman record of nine.
“When I hit the field I don’t care about anybody’s size, how big they are or what their stature is,” Epps said. “I’m a dog and I’m just as big as them when I hit that field no matter the height or all the other stuff.”
Bear vs. Cougar
Epps caught 93 passes from Young for 1,735 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior at Mater Dei High. The USA Today first team All-American, Orange County Register Wide Receiver of the Year and Max Preps first team All-American didn’t get the recruiting attention he had hoped for, so he set his sights on playing for the California Bears.
“My uncle drove me all the way up there (to Berkeley) hoping they would offer me and we left empty-handed,” Epps said. “I was expecting these guys to send me back to L.A. with an offer I can be proud of, and they didn’t.”
During the drive, Epps received a call from BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, who had been prodded by former BYU quarterback John Beck, who is a business associate of Taylor Kelly, an assistant coach at Mater Dei.
Roderick offered Epps a scholarship on the spot — or wherever they were on the road between Berkeley and Los Angeles. “This was the moment I had been waiting for — somebody to give me an opportunity at the time that I needed it most,” he said.
More on Epps
You can see Dave McCann’s interview with Kody Epps Saturday at 11:30 a.m. on “BYU Sports Nation GameDay” on BYUtv.
At the end of the day, Epps was back home with an offer he could be proud of — an offer to play football at BYU; through seven games in 2022, where injuries have consistently shuffled the Cougars receiving corps, Epps has been a constant and welcome surprise.
The business major is a believer.
“It’s just about believing in myself and having trust in God,” he said. “Every time I hit the field I pray and ask him for the courage and enthusiasm to come out and play with intensity, to just have fun, let loose and make some plays. I love scoring touchdowns, getting points on the board and making the fans go crazy!”
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.